Is this junk food?

If you’ve ever had a conversation with yourself where you’re deciding whether or not to eat a specific food, this article is for you! The words “junk food” may bring back distinct memories from your childhood or may even bring up feelings of guilt in the present. And yet, when you look at “junk food” it really is just food. 

All Food Can Fit

Alyssa Flegg Is this junk food?

Is all food good for us to consume at all times? No. But it’s far too simple an approach to put a whole bunch of foods into a category as “junk”, “unhealthy” or “bad” when they can fit in the overall diet picture. (As a refresher, the word diet may not mean what you think it means – check out my article on that topic here). 

When we make food choices, there are many factors that play into that choice including (but not limited to) food availability, cultural norms, family traditions, convenience, health conditions, desires, emotions, habits, budget and available time. Choosing, purchasing, preparing, serving and eating food takes time, energy, money and some kitchen skills. Considering the resources available to you and what you are able to prioritise in your current season of life is key. 

Food is Functional

Alyssa Flegg sala

We all have to eat – it’s integral to life itself! Thankfully we have more options and choices as humans than animals (imagine being a panda bear – all bamboo all day!). Food serves a function, mainly to relieve our hunger and fuel our bodies, but it also can serve other needs. 

Much of the focus in the world of wellness and nutrition is on “optimal” or “healthy” foods, maybe even on so-called “superfoods”. But food in many forms is pretty amazing, even the seemingly simple apple contains at least 2 different types of fibre, multiple phytochemicals and Vitamin C(1)! All of these components may contribute to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer(1).

Food can meet a functional need, the most obvious being hunger. When we eat outside of hunger, then we are meeting a different kind of need. 

Recognize the Need You’re Meeting

Often when we choose a food, it’s not for its nutritional value, but for satisfying a craving, a desire or meeting an emotional need. Sometimes we eat when we’re bored…or when we’d rather focus on a snack than dealing with an uncomfortable emotion. 

This is not necessarily “bad”, and when it comes to emotional eating it’s really just a coping mechanism. It’s up to you to decide if this coping mechanism is working for you or not. If it’s not working, then it’s perhaps time to take a look at what your pattern is and make adjustments. Learning how to eat mindfully can be really helpful – taking time to take in the food with all of your senses, chewing slowly and enjoying the experience. 

Sometimes we’ll eat just because we want to. Guess what – that’s okay! I love a fresh, handmade donut, so when I go to the Kamloops Farmers Market, I  s-a-v-o-u-r  the donut! When you slow down to eat, chew thoroughly and enjoy your food, your body is able to digest it properly.

Alyssa Flegg Nutritionists

Fun fact – digestion begins BEFORE you put food in your mouth! It’s called the cephalic phase and it involves using your senses to take in what you’re about it eat, which allows your digestive system to prime itself for receiving food, lining up all those digestive enzymes that we need to break down and process food. 

By slowing down you can fully enjoy the experience, without any guilt, reducing stress in the body which also helps with managing your blood sugar (and your energy levels) too!

Make your choice, enjoy it and move on; don’t let food choices become a downward spiral, there is always a new day on the way.

Restriction = Binging

Complete restriction of a food you love or a type of food generally results in binging at some point or can lead to yoyo dieting. Neither of those are healthy behaviours. It’s tough to completely eliminate all sources of sugar and, for most people, it’s not practical to say that you will abstain from sugar forever. 

Alyssa Flegg Nutritionist

Mindful eating is again your friend in this situation. Slowing down, eating with intention and savouring helps you avoid binging and overriding your body’s satiety cues(2). 

Food is not Moral

Food is simply food. It’s not moral, it’s not inherently “bad” or “good”. 

Does it serve different purposes? For sure. 

Does it impact our body in different ways? Yes. 

Do our choices matter? Yes.

Do our food choices define us or indicate our character? No. 

While I love to talk about the positive health benefits of various foods and absolutely enjoy helping people adopt a more whole food plant based diet, I know that it’s important to recognize all of the factors that go into making a food choice. Sometimes we are ready to focus on health promoting benefits and sometimes we prefer to make another choice. If cravings are something you struggle with, check out my article here on cravings and here on what to do about them. 

Baby steps begin with changing language around food; instead of using the words “junk”, “bad” or “unhealthy” use the term “quick energy”. Foods that you may have called “good”, “healthy” or “clean” can also be referred to as long energy foods. This simple switch in words can be really helpful! 

Alyssa Flegg Nutritionist

All food can fit in the diet! Start with adjusting your language and keep taking baby steps from there. If you need more guidance, book a call and let’s chat!


  1. “Apples.” The Nutrition Source, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, 5 Oct. 2021, 
  2. Warren, Janet M., et al. “A Structured Literature Review on the Role of Mindfulness, Mindful Eating and Intuitive Eating in Changing Eating Behaviours: Effectiveness and Associated Potential Mechanisms.” Nutrition Research Reviews, vol. 30, no. 2, 18 July 2017, pp. 272–283.,
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